(Haredi) Simulation (Shtisel)

Late to Shtissel, and just now completed watching seasons 1-3 in the span of one extended binge, I should have known better. But I was surprised to find, after poking around online late in the middle of season 2, that the cast is composed of secular Israelis. This should have been obvious from the start; except that it’s one thing to know something beforehand an in theory. It’s another to realize the same thing once already into the fact, as it were. Not “authentic,” the show is a simulation of Haredi life. A takeaway: it is possible to fake it, to fabricate anything, any way of life if you have the key. At the heart of the simulation in theater is what Brecht called the gestus or gest. Shtisel is the more or less convincing capture of a Haredi gestus; in scene on top of scene, one type in relation to another body and social type. The gestus or gest creates the illusion. The way people stand, sit, smoke, talk, walk, wear a dress or a shirt, and otherwise hold themselves. These are/not Haredi Jews at Temple Rodef Shalom at a public event in New York City. In the non-technical sense, a gestus or gest recalls precise physical gestures and movement thru space, the way an actor inhabits a body habitus. As meant by Brecht, the gestus or gest refers to these movements, this body character in relation to society.

Not to compare one and the other. Shtisel is entertainment. Bu here from Brecht, “A Short Organum for the Theater,” are two passages directly relevant to the gestus or gest in general and which remind me of Shtisel:

section 61: The realm of attitudes adopted by the characters towards one another is what we call the realm of gest. Physical attitude, tone of voice and facial expression are all determined by a social gest: the characters are cursing, flattering, instructing one another, and so on. The attitudes which people adopt towards one another include even those attitudes which would appear to be quite private, such as the utterances of physical pain in an illness, or of religious faith. These expressions of a gest are usually highly complicated and contradictory, so that they cannot be rendered by any single word and the actor must take care that in giving his image the necessary emphasis he does not lose anything, but emphasizes the entire complex.  

section 63: Let us get down to the problem of gestic content by running through the opening scenes of a fairly modern play, my own Life of Galileo. Since we wish at the same time to find out what light the different utterances cast on one another we will assume that it is not our first introduction to the play. It begins with the man of forty-six having his morning wash, broken by occasional browsing in books and by a lesson on the solar system for Andrea Sarti, a small boy. To play this, surely you have got to know that we shall be ending with the man of seventy-eight having his supper, just after he has said good-bye for ever to the same pupil?

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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